This sounds like a ritual visit, and it could become one, I wouldn't bark at this yearly cellar tasting of mysterious terroirs so clearly distinct from each other. Our last stop at Philippe Pacalet's cellar was in november 2008 and we had tasted the 2007 wines with Philippe and Nicolas. Nicolas Luquet left the winery since to work closer from his home town in Burgundy.
Philippe and Monica were in the office when we dropped there for our scheduled visit. This was a friday evening and Monica was busy fixing administrative work. We chatted with her a few minutes while Philippe was listening to a Russian visitor. She said that the amount of administrative paper work in France is something that stunned her when she began to work with Philippe, even if she had heard about it before coming here. The wineries in France, big or small, are subjected to many compulsory declarations to this or that administration, and a mistake can have consequences. It is less difficult for big wineries because they have all the accounting staff of big companies, but for a small, qualitative winery, it's an unwarranted distraction from the already difficult task of making wine and selling it. This sensitive administration form-filling is done by another person at Pacalet who has good control on these arduous tasks. Monica concentrates on the commercial contacts vis-à-vis the buyers and importers. She says that lately they got 4 more importers for their wines, in Northern Europe and Belgium. As Philippe Pacalet arrives and invites us to taste a few whites in the vatroom at the street level, she excuses herself as she has a few more things to finish in the office.
He says the he and Monica are just back from Italy where he feels always well, it's a country which has some great winemaking people. They went to Sacrafamilia near Pavie, a place which has always been farmed organicly.
We go taste right away :
__ Pacalet Chablis 1er Cru Vau Ligneau 2009. From a cask. 3 casks only. Refined nose. He says that this wine has iode notes also. Very clear color, bright aspect, not turbid. He moved the cask once only since the harvest, toward the end of march. He doesn't stir the lees, he just moves the cask once, without external action into the wine. In the mouth, richness feel. Manual harvest of course. Yields were 45 ho/ha here. The vineyars is exposed on east and the slope is very steep. The machines can't go on there, that's why he got the vineyard, he adds with a smile... It's often like that, like for a vineyard that he visited recently : several very old vineyards, too old for a conventional winery, yielding to little grapes. He'll probably pay the full rent [Pacalet doesn't own vineyards but rents them] for this vineyard but at least he knows that if scarce, the wine will be good there.
He says that moving the cask helps also stabilize the color. For the reds, it helps mix the tannins with the natural protein, he reminds that he never destemms here. He says that batonnage (stirring up) is made with excess in some places, it's some sort of makeup for the wine.
__ Pacalet Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy 2009. He says that it is less iodic, comes from slopes exposed on the south. Rich wine, with minerality. Not sulphured yet. Toward the end of may, the Chablis wines will be racked, they will get a bit of SO2 and they will be bottled late june or early july. The vineyard of Beauroy lies on debris with stony strats underneath. A mineral wine, B. says that there are honey and citrus notes too. Pacalet adds that both of these Chablis pair well with oysters, which is rare with the Côtes de Beaune whites. B. feels also some bergamot in the glass.
On the side of the vatroom, there's a fiber vat with the Bourgogne Rouge wine waiting its bottling time. (picture on right). There's about the equivalent of 3000 bottles in there. That's an entry wine that costs 9 € only and he prefers to keep some for individual buyers rather than give everything to the shops or the importers. He says that it's made the same way than his high-end wines.
The Murgets vineyard is on a murget, a pile of stones, with very little clay in the soil and exposed on different wind directions. This wine has a more powerful feel in the mouth.
__ Pacalet Chassagne Montrachet Village 2009. From a cask again (like all the tasted wines today). Clear, golden-green color also. He found this Chassagne vineyard last year, along with an Echezeaux and a Clos de Bèze. He wants to keep a production of more or less 45 000 bottles, so he drops other vineyards when he finds what he looks for. Looking for potential vineyards to rent is an important part of his work and he has someone to do that too, a courtier who knows very well the climats, the terroirs and the families who own them. The vineyard plots that they find this way are often vineyards where the machines can't reach easily, or which are too old to keep high yields and in both cases these vineyards turn out to be very qualitative and spared by the mechanization.
This Chassagne is pleasant,, ripe and floral. Hawthorn notes. More acidulous feel on the nose. A sharper wine (anguleux) he says. Neat mouth, balance. All these whites will be bottled before the harvest and put on the market at the end of the year.
__ Pacalet Puligny-Montrachet Village 2009. 6 casks of this wine. Clayish soil with marl, a colder terroir. Meursault is much warmer in comparison, the terroirs are rôtis there he says. 2 Plots. He is in the way to find a third one. Very refined nose, pressed fruits notes. He says that there is a light reduction here, but a very nice one. The wine looks colder even though it's in a cask in the same room. He says that's it's a feature of the Chassagnes to have this cold feel.
__ Pacalet Meursault Village 2009. 6 casks. Nice expresive nose, greenish color. Nice mouth, richness (grassouilet) in the mouth. He likes these obvious differences between the terroirs, here the warmth of Meursault is present. He has these vineyards since 1991. B. feels floral notes, the moth is chewy, there's this richness but with structure too. Speaking of the casks, he says what we taste now are one-wine casks, the two-wines casks are slower to clarify the wines and show more reduction now. He bought them to François Frères and he buys one new cask per year or so. He gets the used casks just after they've been racked by the former owner (François Frères is the intermediary) and before they need any sulphur-wick treatment, that's the deal. So, if he has to use a sulphur wick on these casks (which may happen once a month when these casks are empty), it will be his way and dosage, which is safer. For the whites he usually keeps the casks two wines in a row. He buys 50 to 60 such one-year casks a year and that's an investment. And new casks wouldn't bring anything needed for his wines anyway.
__ Pacalet Nuits Saint Georges Pinot Blanc 2009. 4 casks. He makes this rare wine (variety) since 2008 from a 28-are (0,28 hectare) vineyard. Perly feel here. The mouth is fresh, precise and neat. Complexity. The owner of this plot has also some Musigny. Cherry plum notes. Speaking of his cuvées overall, he makes 12 whites and 15 reds, that's quite a number of small-volume wines to handle...
__ Pacalet Pommard 2009. The Pommard 2008 were bottled last week. These Pommard casks have been moved and rolled to where they are now a week ago. The wine is a bit turbid but has already cleared. B. asks if he checks the moon, he says that temperature, the gas in the wine is also important, so he takes into account different factors. This pommard is fruity with a nice chew. The harvest will be later than usual in 2010 he says, except if there's a heat wave in summer. He says that Pommard, like Chambolle, usually gets ready to drink relatively fast. About the yields in 2009, he says that his yields are regular, in 2005 and 2009 they picked everything except the leaves, in 2007 and 2008 they dumped nearly 15 to 20% of the grapes, so the picking ratio makes the difference. 2009 yields more wines, the harvest costs were lower but some estates try to speculate on this good vintage and artificially push the prices upward.
__ Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin 2009. Comes from 4 plots, makes 6000 bottles or 27/28 casks. He use 3 to 4-wines casks for example here. Morello cherry notes. Juicy feel, says B. gas too. As said, he never destemms, not even partially. On the other side, he can't cheat, if the clusters aren't perfect, he has to put them down, to cut the unfit parts. The fermentation goes with small amounts of sugar at every punching, making the process very smooth. So, he doesn't have to use cold temperature to force the juice colder because it's so progressive. They punch a bit every day for that. I tell him that it would be a good photo op for me, he says that the Russian TV came here to shoot that among other things. He sells some wine in Russia (I even found some of his wine on the Web in Russia). Business is more tricky there than, say, with Japan, but he works with an agent there.
__ Pacalet Chambolle Musigny 2009. Comes from two vineyard plots, makes 3000 bottles of it. Nice clear-red color. B. feels a cherry-like, candy aroma. Very nice mouth with melted tannins. You're right, Monica, that's beautiful... We look at her as she smells religiously this Chambolle, which makes her burst into laughs (my picture, the best advertising for this Chambolle ever).
__ Pacalet Nuits Saint Georges 2009. Since 2001 (this vineyard). Nice aromas but this wine has "more shoulders" compared with the previous. The tannins are more square and tight.
__ Pacalet Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru 2009. Superb nose here. Long mouth, very nice wine for sure. 10 casks of it. Very nice structure, B. notes, peony notes on retro-olfaction, but ads that the wine is still discreet in its expression. Philippe Pacalet says that it's the way the 1er Cru behaves in its early age, it shows just the buds, like the vines these days. It will be more open during the summer.
__ Pacalet Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru, old vines, from a vineyard where the machine harvesters can't pass, that's why he could rent the vineyard, starting in 2008. He says that more and more estates harvest with machines, and here again, the dissuasive work regulations play a role, but that's not the sole. He adds that 15 years from now it could be a rarity to see manual harvests. Turbid wine, but relatively clear color. B. notes that the wine doesn't speak much, which Pacalet says is normal for this particular wine at this stage. Very elegant wine. The vineyard is 70 years old, that's what he calls old, compared to 40 or 50 years (he's about 45 and doesn't feel old).
__ Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Bel Air 2009. An extreme wine, with rose wood, brambles wood, he says before we smell and sip our glass. Almost no clay in this vineyard, just rocks. Beautiful wine, if that's extreme, I take it. Mineral feel, almost rocky in the mouth. B. notes an end of the mouth on the rose petals. He says it's a wine with depth. He ade 5 casks of this. This climat is a cold one, near Clos de Bèze and above the Ruchottes. Monica adds that the place is so beautiful also, with the woods and the mountain above the plot.
__ Pacalet Echezeaux 2009. The first vintage, he got the vineyard last year. Great priviledge to taste this. Lots of complexity on the nose, for sure. Refined and powerful. 4 casks of this wine. One tiny vineyard surface : 15 ares. The cask was moved once, like the other casks, which mixed the lees with the wine. Still lightly turbid. One new cask and the others are one-wine old. Subtil aromas, rose petals, B. says, with pepper. The nose is refined and the mouth has a beautiful structure and moves toward a powerful side. He doesn't know when it will be bottled, regular cellar tastings by him and aides will decide. I move toward the cask to pour it back like the others (I'm the one behind the wheel) but B. stops me, no, you won't do that for this one, I'll finish your glass...